Monday, May 18, 2009

Defending the myth of the American Dream

I saw this clip on Fox News and was really amused by how the interview went. Check it out.

OK, let's analyze it for a minute.

First off, remember that the Professor's thesis is that it takes a bit of luck to be successful in addition to hard work etc. That often that luck comes in forms that we don't typically think about, such as our place of birth. If hard work is all it takes, why are there more millionaires in first world countries than third world countries? You can read the Professor's article in the New York Times.

OK, now that we're grounded in the Professor's thesis, let's review how the host tries to challenge it. From the very introduction the host sets up a black and white dichotomy - is it hard work, talent and determination OR luck. Remember, the professor never claimed that hard work, talent and determination aren't important. You can bet that the host will later suggest we don't need to work hard - just be lucky.

And we haven't even gotten to the first question! Watch how quickly Varney, the host of the show, personalizes the Professor's thesis....

"Wait a minute, Professor, do you know how insulting that was... when I read that"... and he goes on to talk about what a tough time he had as an immigrant to America and how he worked so hard....

"I came with nothing"... (I'm getting teary eyed thinking about this scrappy little immigrant kid)... Oh but wait - he did come with a degree from the London School of Economics. Most likely not a poor kid from Calcutta eh? He got hired by CNN back in the 80's and has continued his career in "journalism". Today he earns $20,000 to $30,000 for speaking engagements. That's on top of his FOX News salary.

Even when the professor says that hard work is important, Varney tries to flip it again. This time the personal gives way to an iconic argument.... "You're saying the American Dream is not really there".

And to even suggest luck might have anything to do with anything is "OUTRAGEOUS!"

Yep, being born to my parents wall all skill on my part baby.

And then we see it... Varney flips the luck argument (as predicted) and says "Then there's not point in trying hard."

(As a side note, I'm wondering if conservatives are simply incapable of holding 'both/and' ideas in their head. Perhaps their world is so black and white that holding two positions simultaneously would cause the to explode. I mean seriously - is this that big a deal that luck might accompany hard work?)

OK - so we shift from luck to taxes. Again, as a conservative it's an all or nothing point of view. If taxed, obviously the government is socialist. Wild swinging extremes.

And what does this professor think the tax rate ought to be? Why is he asking this question? Does the professor set tax policy? I suspect he's asking because he knows the professor favors a higher tax rate and therefore wants to paint him as someone "who wants to take your money".

Then there is comparing the US with the rest of the world. And when that doesn't pan out the answer is "then you go live there".

And of course, we couldn't have a rational discussion about these issues without the requisite labeling of the opposition as socialist. And again, even after the Professor explicitly says the opposite, Varney repeats how insulted he is and that the Professor is "going against the American Dream".

My favorite part was when Varney says "If you come to America with nothing, if you play by the rules and get WILL make it in America" etc. I guess hard working is in the eye of the beholder. I guess if you have a degree from the London School of Economics you work much harder than tomato pickers. That whole "I came with nothing" rant... Please.

We could analyze this deeper but I'd suggest that one reason why wealthy people want to cling to this idea that they are 'self-made' is that they don't want to be obligated to anyone. We live in a country where the laws make it possible for business to succeed and have a world class infrastructure that allows for the distribution of goods and services. All paid for by the government but conservatives discount all that.

OK, one last point and a bit of humor. Varney suggest to the Professor "Why don't you go live there"..... just for fun - the Daily Show took a look to see how hellish life in a socialist country might be...
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The Stockholm Syndrome
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

and part II
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The Stockholm Syndrome Pt. 2
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good one on Intuition and it helps a lot.

Karim - Mind Power